Al-Hikam Al-‘ata’iyya: The Book of Wisdom
By Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller
APHORISM 4: Relieve yourself of planning: what Another has already done for you do not do yourself.
THE UNIVERSE and all it contains are the deed of a single Doer. If planning is not to veil the spiritual traveller, he must be aware of this tawhid, the Divine Reality behind the world of forms. To know it is to walk in light and not to is to walk in darkness.
As a Sufi once told me:
“Sit with those of this world, and you become a speck in its sea. Sit with those of Allah, and the world becomes a speck in your sea.”
Mawlay al-`Arabi al-Darqawi wrote in a letter to adisciple:A certain person who was against us said to me [hypocritically] one day in the presence of some of the brethren (Allah be well pleased with them), “You are our lords and masters.” I told him: “I won’t hear this from you or another, or anyone else, unless Allah is my Lord and Master. As for when my ego is my lord and master, I won’t hear it or accept it.” And I said: “The moment at which Allah Most Glorious is my Lord and Master, then am I the lord and master of all existence despite itself, willing or unwilling. And the moment at which my ego is my lord and master, all existence is my lord and master despite myself, willing or unwilling. It is contemptuous towards me, disparages me, humiliates me, overrides me, ignores me,dismisses me, and does whatever else it wishes with me. So howshould we care about your praise or blame, or that of anyone else? It is baseless.”Regardless of who appears to be in control, Allah is Master ofreality, and knowing this facilitates everything, inwardly andoutwardly, while “planning” without this knowledge is merefloundering. The heart of the person who must be in control—of his present, past, and future—is without the tawakkul or “trust in Allah” that is essential to living one’s faith in a real world. The “planning” one should relieve oneself of is that which makes one prey to the Devil, whom Allah tells us “has no power over those who truly believe, and place their whole trust in their Lord” (Qur’an 16:99). Hearts without trust in God have to listen to a lot of advertisements from hell.When I took the path in the early 1980s from Sheikh `Abd al-Rahman al-Shaghouri, he seemed so old and frail that I kept wondering, “What if he passes away before I finish my spiritual journey?” At every illness—and he had a few—my heart would feel a chill, and I would hear misgivings and suggestions, grounded, as most infernal thoughts are, in some points of fact.I had arrived in Jordan more than seven years after the death ofSheikh Muhammad Sa`id al-Kurdi, the last great spiritual guidethere. Many disciples I met and talked to had only known him for four years, some for only two years, before he died. Since the days of Sheikh al-`Alawi of Algeria at the first of the century, the sheikhs of our tariqa had used the khalwa or solitary retreat to train disciples. One of the main reasons I sought out Sheikh `Abd al-Rahman in Damascus was that Sheikh al-Kurdi had not authorized anyone else in it.In the course of my first year with the sheikh, I asked about thekhalwa, and he explained that his and Sheikh al- Kurdi’s sheikh,Muhammad al-Hashimi, had used the rooms in the Qalbaqjiyya Zawiya near the Nuriyya Mosque in the Old City. At present, he told me—in the wake of a massacre of scores of `Alawite cadets in Aleppo imputed to the Ikhwan Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), and the government’s own massacre of thousands of citizens in Hama—the `Alawite regime had sent its security forces to clean up the Old City around the Hamidiyya, a warren of resistance. The police had entered the zawiya and placed red wax seals upon almost every door in the place, under the direst threats for breaking them. The khalwa was effectively closed.Around the same time, at a moment when Syrian troops were massed on the northern borders of Jordan for its allegedly giving asylum to members of the Ikhwan, one of our brothers in Jordan decided to give a mawlid celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (Allah bless him and give him peace). He phoned the sheikh in Damascus, inviting him down by saying, “The brothers (al-ikhwan) would love to see you.” The call was overheard by security in Damascus, and the infelicitous word resulted in repeated interrogations for the sheikh and final cancellation of his passport. For the next seven years he could not come to Jordan.As the khalwa receded into the distance, my thoughts went on and on about the sheikh’s condition and age. I put my fears before him one afternoon, and he looked at me levelly and said, “Sidi, if I didn’t think I could finish with you, I wouldn’t have begun.” Eventually, other rooms were found in Damascus for the khalwa, and ultimately the sheikh did pass on—but more than two decades later. Looking back, I realized that Allah had been teaching me something about tawakkul: that too much desire for control puts one under the Devil’s control; and that planning does not benefit the traveller when it concerns the warid, or “that which is from God,” but only when it concerns the wird, or “that which is from one to God,” one’s spiritual works.The wird includes not only one’s five daily prayers, dhikr, fasting, night vigil prayer (tahajjud), going to the mosque, and being with those who uplift one—all of which are praiseworthy to plan—but indeed anything that is intended for Allah, whether learning Sacred Knowledge to worship, saving money for hajj, raising funds for disaster relief, supporting oneself and family by honest work, or even the food, sleep, and exercise needed to fulfill the rights of Allah, others, or oneself that are incumbent upon one. Accomplishing all of these is praiseworthy, and to plan and carry them out for the sake of Allah benefits the spiritual traveller. Planning is blameworthy when it concerns the warid or that which is from Allah, such as mystical experiences, spiritual stations, and tawfiq or “divinely given success” in anything, worldly or unworldly.
Abul Hasan al-Shadhili once said: A friend and I took to a cave, seeking to reach Allah, and we would say, “Tomorrow we shall be illumined, or the day after tomorrow.” A man passed by who inspired awe, and we said, “Who are you?” and he replied, “The slave of the King (`Abd al-Malik),” and we realized he was one of the saints of Allah. He said: “How is someone who says, `Tomorrow I shall be illumined, or the day after tomorrow’?— Neither sainthood nor success! O self, why not worship Allah for the sake of Allah?” We then understood from whence we had been taken, and we repented and asked Allah’s forgiveness; and then illumination came.One must strive to do works for Allah with true sincerity, while the fruits of these works are sent by Allah, and one should free the heart of turning to them and looking at them, because they are “what Another has already done for you,” and hence a matter of trust in God (tawakkul).
As Mustafa al-`Arusi once said:
“The one with real trust is he who sees Allah in the outward forms of causes and effects, doing and choosing everything that those veiled from Him ascribe to them. He thus consigns the matter to Him in charge of the matter, and is well pleased with Him to rely on.”Trust in God is an exacting spiritual perspective. Without it, there may be false confidence in one’s own striving, while with it, human weakness may try to excuse its own fecklessness, as Ibn `Ata’ Illah apprises travellers by saying:
APHORISM 5: Your striving for what is ensured to you and neglect of what is sought from you show the blindness of your spiritual insight.
The journey to the Real described in these aphorisms is the path of wilaya or “friendship with Allah.” To travel it, the wali or friend must realize that Allah is his wali, his all powerful patron and helping friend, who says: Allah is the protecting friend (wali) of those who believe, bringing them out of darknesses into the light (Qur’an 2:257).This is “what is ensured” to the disciple in the mystic path, and is what Allah has destined for him from beginningless eternity, and what he must know and be absolutely certain of. The friend (wali) of Allah must know the favor of Allah and not place his hope in anything besides. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:Allah Most High says: “I shall be to My servant as he thinks I shall be. I am with him when he makes remembrance (dhikr) of Me. If he remembers Me to himself, I remember him to Myself, and if he mentions Me to an assembly, I mention him to an assembly better than they. If he draws nearer to Me by a span, I draw nearer to him by a cubit, and if he draws nearer to Me by a cubit, I draw nearer to him by a fathom. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.”The sign that God wants one is that one wants God; just as the sign of His drawing nearer to one is that one is drawing nearer to Him. Abu Bakr al-Warraq used to forbid his disciples to journey ortravel, saying, “The key to every spiritual blessing is patience in the place where you first aspire, until you truly desire. When you truly desire, the beginnings of blessedness have appeared in you.”?To become such a person, the disciple must spend all he has, like a runner who does not catch his second wind until he has used up his first. True desire (irada) to do “what is sought” from one is the mark of the kind of person Allah calls My servant in the above hadith.Desire means taking a serious look at oneself, turning one’s back on what Allah detests, and walking away from it. Speaking badly of someone absent, for example, which Allah has likened to “eating the flesh of one’s dead brother” (Qur’an 49:12)—no matter how witty, chic, or entertaining in the eyes of friends—is hated by God. Imam Nawawi tells us, moreover, that “just as it is unlawful to speak of a person’s failings to someone else, so too it is unlawful (haram) to speak to oneself of them and think badly of him.”? How many of one’s thoughts are about others’ failings? If one takes a step forward in the spiritual path with dhikr and prayer, and two steps backward by slandering others, how soon will one reach the goal? Desire means adding these up.Desire also means loving what God loves, and He loves a heart alive with His remembrance. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said, “Truly, this world and all it contains are accursed, except for the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah, that which He loves, and someone who has Sacred Knowledge or someone learning it.”? For Sufis dhikr is the main stanchion of the spiritual path, its way, aim, and method. Ibn al-`Arabi advises:Be diligent in the remembrance of Allah, secretly and openly, toyourselves and with others, for Allah has said, “Remember Me and I will remember you” (Qur’an 2:152), making remembrance from Allah the consequence of remembrance from the servant.Dhikr has tremendous power. Those who travel to the hajj, forexample, and constantly make the dhikr that is sunna in motion, at rest, and in all the rites, find their whole reality changed. Fewever forget the hajj, but for those able to continue in theircertitude after they return home, it is an axial experience. In thissense the spiritual path is a permanent pilgrimage. All of thesematters are sought from the traveller.To summarize, desire means change, first by takhliya or “riddingoneself ” of the acts, motives, and states unacceptable to Allah;then tahliya or “adorning oneself ” with good traits such assincerity (ikhlas), trust (tawakkul), remembrance of Allah, andfinally the ma`rifa or knowledge of the Divine with which Allah remembers the person of dhikr who perseveres in these.
To rely on one’s own efforts to bring about what Allah has already decided is “your striving for what is ensured to you,” while not to change oneself is the “neglect of what is sought from you.” Both are blindness in the way of wilaya.
“Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.”
(The Holy Qur’an-94:6)